On June 22, 2012, the Calgary Flames drafted Mark Jankowski out of a Quebec prep school at 21st overall in the NHL Draft. On Sept. 30, 2016, roughly 1,560 days later, Jankowski played his first game in the Scotiabank Saddledome. Granted, it was a preseason game, but it was something that many fans and observers thought would never, ever happen.
But Jankowski is finally a professional hockey player and is finally at a Flames training camp, competing for a job. When we chatted with him during the first weekend of main camp, he reflected on the decision to spend full four seasons in college, rather than sign a pro deal earlier.
“I think for me my mindset was what’s best for me in the long-term, so I think me developing and spending those four years at Providence was really good for me,” said Jankowski. “Yeah, I could’ve probably left early but maybe I would have rushed things a little bit and didn’t get the full development that you can get in college. So I feel like from all points, on the ice, off the ice, the four years of college were really beneficial in my development.”
When we chatted with Flames development coach Ray Edwards earlier this summer, he mentioned Jankowski having the opportunity to “grow into his body” during his years in college. Another way that Jankowski was helped by four years in the NCAA was in his game; Johnny Gaudreau was an elite offensive talent from basically day one, while Jankowski had to figure out the nuances of his game over a longer period. It really wasn’t until his senior year that his 200-foot play meshed with offensive production.
“I think that’s a big reason why I decided to stay and do my fourth year at college and everything, and it was obviously a really good decision,” said Jankowski. “I wouldn’t think twice about it. Everyone develops at different rates… I developed a 200-foot game when I was at college. Coming out of prep school, I really didn’t know much defense and Nate Leaman really helped me in that aspect, become a really good 200-foot center and make a difference at both ends of the ice.”
Jankowski finished off his college career on March 25 as Providence College lost in the national playoffs. Five days later he signed his entry-level contract and set off for Stockton, California. He made his pro debut with the Heat on April 1, fitting for a player many felt would never find his way into pro hockey (given his protracted path from prep school).
“That was a huge thing for me when my season ended, I wanted to go get some pro games under my belt,” said Jankowski, who had six points in eight AHL games. “Going to Stockton, it was a really big learning experience for me. Just trying to take everything in as much as I could during the two weeks I was there, how pros act on and off the ice, and just the differences of the game, the style of game, everybody’s bigger, faster, stronger… So that was really good for me coming into this camp.”
His Stockton experience has left Jankowski with confidence that he can make the transition to full-time pro successfully. But he’s also aware that it’s his first training camp, and he’s focused on making a good first impression on Flames management and letting the chips fall where they may.
“I think for me, I just need to take it day by day and put my best foot forward every day,” said Jankowski. “If at the end of the camp I’m one of the best 23 players here, they’ll find a spot, and I think that’s my goal. I want to be here, and I want to be opening night in Edmonton there. So that’s a huge goal for me.”